• Three-nation tournament made up of Saudi Arabia, Maldives and Seychelles

  • Pele leads praise as Saudi Arabia’s women’s team makes history

  • Seychelles continue long-awaited return to international arena

With its white sandy beaches, blue lagoons and extensive coral reefs, many people consider the Maldives to be a magical place. That includes the country’s women’s national team, as well as those of Saudi Arabia and Seychelles – albeit for a different reason entirely. In February, the three teams participated in a historic friendly tournament in the tropical paradise.

The Maldives women’s national team was established in 2003 and went on to play their first official international fixture the following year against Myanmar, which they lost 17-0. They recorded their first victory in 2012, which had a major impact on the perception of women’s football.

“After that win, the way people and the way society thought slowly began to change,” said Mariyam Mirfath, the first captain of the Maldives. “We also had a good team back then. After 2012 we drew a few games, won a few and lost a few. But not like in 2004, when we were defeated 17-0. At the moment there are over 100 girls in the FAM (Football Association of Maldives) Academy. I think setting up that academy was good for the future. We’re still lacking a women’s league though.”

After all, practice makes perfect. Regular training sessions, league matches and international friendlies are essential to drive women’s football forward. The three-nations tournament was a further step along this path. “We need more games, like friendlies for example, because that way more women would take an interest in 11-a-side football,” said Maldives international Shahula Thaufeeq.

First win for Seychelles under Angeline Chua

While Maldives are already on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking (in 152nd place, as of December 2021), Seychelles are still fighting for a rung on the ladder. Coach Angelina Chua’s side travelled to the Maldives in order to improve on their showing at the tournament in Dubai, where they lost twice to United Arab Emirates in September 2021.

“Last year we had the opportunity to play our first international game in 16 years,” said Chua, who is also the head of women’s football in the Seychelles. “We want to make it the norm for the women’s team to play when the men’s team does. I think there are still some obstacles for girls in the Seychelles. We want to try to organise more football activities so that more girls take part and the talent pool grows.